Liver Disease in Older Dogs

Liver disease in older dogs

It feels like liver disease in older dogs is an illness not talked about as often as kidney disease, or diabetes, am I right?

We know it exists, we know dogs are afflicted with it, but I rarely hear it mentioned, except when my vet told me there was a problem with Red’s liver.

It is most commonly found in older dogs, although dogs of any age can be affected due to genetics or external/environmental factors.

What is the function of the liver?

I have heard the liver referred to as the “workhorse” of the body.  It…

  • Produces bile that aids in digestion
  • Metabolises fats, carbs and proteins
  • Helps blood clotting
  • Breaks down drugs
  • Removes toxins from the body
  • Stores vitamins and minerals

Symptoms of liver disease in dogs

Many of the symptoms of liver disease are the same as for other illnesses, so my best advice is to see your vet whenever you notice in behaviour changes, no matter how slight they may be. 

Have you noticed any of the following?

  • Peeing more
  • Weakness/lethargy
  • Symptoms of liver disease in dogsDrinking more
  • Depression
  • Blood in/ dark coloured pee
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion
  • Apathy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Seizures
  • Enlarged abdomen caused by fluid build-up

Dogs with advanced liver disease often suffer neurological and behavioural changes. This is due to the high levels of toxins in the body that would normally have been removed by a healthy liver.

Signs you may see include:

  • Seizures
  • Wandering
  • Disorientation
  • Aggression
  • Restlessness
  • Pacing
  • Drooling

Skin disorders in dogs with advanced liver disease may also occur.

Causes

Possible causes of liver diseaseThere are several possible causes including:

  • Being a common illness in old dogs
  • Infection
  • Medication
  • Trauma
  • Other diseases
  • Genetics
  • Toxins (plants, herbs, pesticides…)
  • Long term use of painkillers
  • Fatty foods

Diagnosing liver disease

Your vet will ask about your dog’s diet, medication he’s taking, any chance he got into something he shouldn’t and changes you may have noticed. Blood tests and urine tests are pretty standard “starting point” diagnostic tools in my vet’s office, and they will probably be in yours as well. The next step will depend on test results.   

Treatment

As with every condition, the treatment will depend on the diagnosis. How quickly was it caught? How advanced is it?

A change in diet, milk thistle (a supplement known to be good for the liver – in humans as well!), SAMe (naturally produced by the liver and available as a supplement), medications, IV fluids to prevent dehydration, medications to control vomiting and even surgery are all possibles.

Prevention

Many causes are not preventable, but here are things you can do for your old dog’s overall health and wellbeing…

  • Senior dogs should have twice yearly check ups, unless your vet is monitoring a condition and more frequent trips are needed. Routine blood tests, for example, can detect elevated liver enzymes so prompt action can be taken.
  • Take your dog to the vet as soon as you notice any changes in behaviour, no matter how minor you think they are. Early diagnosis means early treatment, and can prevent liver damage.
  • Avoid feeding fatty foods
  • Provide him with a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet
  • Appropriate exercise
  • Access to fresh, clean drinking water
  • Know the poisonous plants or insects in your area
  • Keep dangerous substances out of your dog’s reach

Liver disease in older dogs – conclusion

Even if a large percentage of a liver is diseased, it has a remarkable way of still working. Depending on the severity of the illness, dogs can live comfortably for years after a diagnosis. As I keep saying, get your dog to the vet when you notice any change in behaviour. Older dogs can go downhill very quickly, so time is of the essence.

I do hope you have found this post on liver disease in older dogs informative.

Has your dog been affected by liver problems? Was it a result of age or environmental factors? Sharing helps others so why not comment in the section below or on my Facebook page.

 

You may want to refer to this article “Liver Disease: Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnosis” for more in depth information.

Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

9 Comments

  1. Jana Rade

    Interesting point that liver disease isn’t nearly as highlighted than things such as kidney disease or diabetes etc. I wonder, though, whether chronic liver disease is really as common? The liver, given its function, can get hit for a number of reasons; on the other hand, it also has the ability to regenerate.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      So many things can affect the liver, it would be interesting to know the incidence of it being the “only” problem. I’ve had animals with kidney disease and diabetes but never just a liver problem. At the moment it was determined Red has lesions on her liver, but she has other issues as well.

      Reply
      1. Jana Rade

        I know there is idiopathic liver inflammation but idiopathic doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a cause, just that nobody knows what it is. I think that if you really get philosophical about it, NOTHING happens in itself as no organ is an island. The insult can come from the outside, though, whether in a form of infection, toxins etc. Even cancer in the liver is extremely rarely primary.

        Reply
        1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

          You’re absolutely right Jana. Idiopathic just means nobody knows what the cause is, not that there isn’t one. It’s true no organ is an island, and I know in my dog Red’s case it isn’t always known where or why the problem originated, and as a result of one issue, other organs or systems have been affected.

          Reply
  2. Ruth Epstein

    Great post as usual, learning so much from them especially with Layla getting older, Happy Easter and thanks

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Ruth, Happy Easter to you as well. I don’t think enough is written about caring for older pets, and the information is so critical at this stage in their lives.

      Reply
  3. Lola The Rescued Cat

    I learn a lot from reading your blog. It’s good information I can pass along to friends and family members. It’s interesting that Liver Disease is not spoken about as often as Kidney Diseas.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thank you Lola, I can’t tell you how happy that makes me! It is strange, I don’t know if it’s because the liver isn’t affected as much on it’s own but rather because of another illness.

      Reply
  4. Tonya Wilhelm

    This is a very helpful post. Dexter is on medications for his neurological condition, so we check his blood work and a few other things every 4 months. Knock on wood, nothing is wrong with his liver. We are battling the start of some kidney issues, but we’re on a few kidney support supplements and now that is getting back on track too.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Tonya and glad to hear Dexter is doing well on his medications, and not having any adverse affects. Don’t even talk to me about kidney issues, it’s like almost every cat or dog I’ve ever had suffered from that. I like hearing how helpful the supplements are, I wish I had a holistic vet earlier to help Red.

      Reply

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